Chad Blair: Aloha everybody and welcome to another installment of the Pod Squad. As always, Chad Blair with Honolulu Civil Beat. Joining me is our intrepid reporter Nick Grube. Hello Nick.
Nick Grube: Hi Chad, how are you?
Blair: I’m good, it’s great to have you back on the Pod Squad. And our special guest, first time guest, Chief Darryl Perry, the chief of the Kauai Police Department, and he is joining us over the telephone to speak today about body cameras on police officers. Hello chief, can you hear us okay?
Darryl Perry: Yes I can hear you fine Chad, thank you for allowing me this opportunity.
Blair: Thanks. Well, we’re going to talk about a serious topic, and Nick, I wonder if you might just briefly set the stage about what’s going on in terms of these body cameras for police officers? As we all know, this is a national issue given the increased focus on police officers and shootings and so forth. Tell me where we are in terms of Hawaii moving forward on this.
Grube: Right, yeah, as you said, nationally there’s a push to outfit police officers with body cameras as a way to increase police accountability in light of several high profile police killings that have gone on, particularly in Ferguson and New York …
Blair: Chicago now is the hot spot too …
Grube: Chicago as well. So in Hawaii there’s been some talk about outfitting our own officers statewide with body cameras. Now the Kauai Police Department is positioned to be the first department to actually have a permanent body camera program in place by the end of the year. There’s been a little bit of debate back and forth between the department and the statewide police union, over the best way to implement that policy, that was a subject of an article that we wrote for Civil Beat, and Chief Perry actually intends to have that program going, with or without full union support, before 2016.
Blair: We’ll talk about SHOPO and the arguments for and against, but Chief Perry, can you tell us why this is so important to you and your police force and the citizens on the Garden Island, to have body cameras for your department?
Perry: Sure, actually we looked at this about two and a half, maybe three years ago while I was attending the International Association of Chiefs of Police Conference on the mainland. And back then, it was a new technology and it kind of peaked our interest.
Moving forward, fast forward, issues came about on Kauai where our officers were … alleged to have conducted themselves inappropriately, misconduct complaints and arrests. We had to spend on average 30 hours of internal investigation and in the end about 90 percent … 95 percent of our complaints were not true. The allegations were false, and we were able to prove that. And reflecting back on the body worn-cameras, that was our initial intent, to protect the officers from false complaints.
But as the issues developed on the mainland concerning shootings and the like, we realized that this is not just protection of our officers, but protection of the community, and so we moved in that direction. And as was mentioned, we’ve been working with SHOPO, but it’s been a very difficult to say the least, attempting to have our officers use body-worn cameras. We’re close, but there’s still some issues that we’re dealing with, with SHOPO.
Grube: Yeah, and I was wondering if you would be able to explain a few of the sticking points that you’ve had with the police union, and kind of where the situation is today on those issues.
Blair: Yeah, like what’s the big issue, the thing that’s halting SHOPO the most, the one or two big items that has caused some resistance on the part of the union?
Perry: OK, when we were interested in the body-worn cameras we contacted SHOPO and we started moving forward. In last year’s legislation SHOPO wrote testimony actually in favor of the body-worn camera, and in their testimony they stated there were many issues that needed to be resolved, among them were planning, training, budgeting, privacy issues, educating the community and the like, and throughout this, from last year on, we addressed each and very one of those concerns.
The only things we had issues with was the activation of the cameras. SHOPO’s position was that turning on the camera should be at the discretion of the officer. Well if that’s the case, it just defeats the whole purpose of a body-worn camera, so we didn’t agree to that.
Grube: Right, it seems like that’s an issue nationally, correct? In that a lot of police unions and police departments really struggle with figuring out when to turn on the camera, because I think there’s the idea that if you give too much discretion to the officer then the program might lose some credibility because they’re not sure when the cameras are being turned on and off.
Perry: Right absolutely, it undermines the program. Of course we have situations where the officer can turn the camera off, in situations involving an individual who absolutely does not want to be video-taped, not unless it’s a criminal offense that requires that the officer … so there’s so leeway, some discretion there, also when we’re dealing with juveniles or sex assault victims and the rest, it’s all listed in our policy. We were sensitive to privacy issues and all the rest. In my opinion, we did resolve those issues with SHOPO.
And after we did all of that and put it in our policy and sent it back, then we’re hit with another issue challenge. SHOPO said that according to the collective bargaining agreement it’s a mutual consent situation involving work conditions and the rest.
This was never the case when we got other equipment such as tasers, such as in-car cameras, it wasn’t an issue, but when it came to the body-worn camera, it suddenly became an issue. Our position has been that mutual consent … let me go back, mutual consent requires the approval of SHOPO, in other words we can’t move, and it affects not only Kauai, but it affects all the other agencies, the county agencies, Honolulu, Maui, and the Big Island.
Blair: Well let me get this straight, if for some reason SHOPO decides to go to the Labor Relations Board, is it possible they could stop or halt your implementation of the camera program for your officers on Kauai?
Perry: That’s a possibility. They could file a complaint, take whatever information they have, evidence they have, to the labor board and ask for an injunction or stop us from implementing the program. We feel that we’re on solid ground, but I don’t want to go that route, we want to work together with SHOPO.
Grube: Well how likely is it that SHOPO is actually going to go that route? I mean, when you look at the policy that you want to implement, it seems as if you’re following what appears to be best practices when it comes to when you should turn the cameras off and allowing at least some discretion when turning them …
Perry: Absolutely. And just for the public’s information, during the period, it’s been over a year now, we’ve made 13 revisions to our policy, and most of the revisions were as a result of conferring with SHOPO, making sure that they’re happy.
We’ve also met with their general counsel, which is their attorney, their representatives, and as you’ve said, we did research on the best practices, we sent our officers to seminars, workshops, we got information from the Department of Justice, we met with our human resources, our county attorney, we made presentations to the public, the police commission, community members — we solicited their input, talked with the prosecutor’s office.
We’ve done everything possible. If SHOPO goes ahead and files a prohibited practice, that’s their right to do so, our concern is that, I want to make sure that the public is protected, our employees are protected in light of what’s been going on in the nation, not only in the incidents involving shootings, police officer-involved shootings (let’s put it that way), but we’re also concerned about active shooter situations, to have our officers prepared …
Anyway, that’s where we are right now. I just sent out a letter to SHOPO explaining that we’ve done everything we could possibly do, and my plan is to move forward on the body-worn cameras this Monday, roll it out. They won’t be on the officers right away because we have to retrain some of the officers, but the rolling out of the program will be this Monday and we’ll see what happens as it will be incrementally given to our patrol officers.
Hopefully SHOPO will be on board with that and we can move forward. I don’t think this is a perfect policy, but I’m pretty sure it’s one of the best in the nation, so we’ll see what happens. You know, Tenari (Ma’afala) and SHOPO, I’ve worked with them before when I was a police officer in Honolulu and they’re personal friends of mines, and I want to keep it that way.
Blair: Chief Perry, just two more questions, I’ll ask one and I’m going to leave the last question for Nick. Let me ask you how this works for the average person. Let’s say that you see someone driving recklessly and fast down the highway on Kauai, and an officers pulls them over. At that point is it likely that a camera light would be turned on, and if so, would the person in the car know that? Would there be like a, I don’t know, a flashing red light or something? Some indicator so that the person, meaning the civilian, the citizen, knows that they’re actually being filmed. Is that how that would work?
Perry: Ah, funny you should mentioned that, because in the interim before moving forward with the body-worn camera, the assistant chief volunteered to use the body-worn camera to go out and do traffic enforcement. What happened is that, if they see a violation, they turn the camera on, and the camera is very visible, you can see it, there’s some with glasses, or you can have it shoulder-mount. And we informed the person that you’re being recorded, and it comes out in high definition so …
Blair: Oh it’s in HD? It’s recorded in HD?
Blair: I’m going to give the last word to Nick Grube, Nick please…
Grube: Yeah, well, one of the things I was curious about, how are the actual officers taking this new program? So I talked to the Maui deputy police chief, Dean Rickard, over there and he was saying that initially the officers were leery when they were doing a pilot program, but then after they put the cameras on and used them for a little bit, they started coming around, and looking at it as more of a positive, so how do the rank and file feel about body cameras and wearing them?
Perry: Actually, it’s the same here. There are officers in our department that don’t want it, unfortunately, but the majority, the ones that I’ve spoken to by and large, they want the cameras, and they see the benefits to it like all of us do. The officers will be able to review, that was another concession, review cases they go to so that their reports are accurate.
The only time they won’t be able to review it is in cases where there’s a shooting. The officer has to record exactly what they perceived to have happened because you won’t be able to see everything or hear everything, so you have to put down exactly what you saw and heard, and not rely on the camera, that can come up later on, that’s the only time they won’t allow an officer to review a video.
Blair: Okay, well that should provide some comfort to us all. Chief, it’s really been a pleasure to have you on the Pod Squad, and hopefully next time when you’re on Oahu we can actually get you to come into the office. I know we would appreciate that. I also know Nick Grube will be following up on this story as your department moves forward to implement these body cameras for your police officers. Thank you, Chief Perry, for being on the Pod Squad today.
Perry: Well thank you for sharing this with the public. I appreciate … we’re always willing to work with the media, and especially you guys, thank you so much.
Grube: Thanks Chief, really appreciate that.
Blair: Sweet, thank you Chief. Nick Grube, as always, a pleasure to have you joining me at the microphone.
Grube: Thank you Chad.
Blair: For another episode of the Pod Squad and Honolulu Civil Beat, I’m Chad Blair. Take care and aloha.